‘Enola Holmes’ author shares local ties to Netflix hit about Sherlock’s kid sister

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes 'Enola Holmes' on Netflix

After earning a literature degree from Gettysburg College in 1970, Nancy Springer commuted to work at the library of Saint Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Little did she know, that humble job would spark a long career as an author.

“I was typing the cards for the card catalog,” Springer told WTOP. “The head librarian assigned me to read a great number of children’s books and write little reviews for a class she was teaching. It definitely helped me as a writer. … I started writing in 1972.”

Today, her beloved children’s book series has exploded into the hit Netflix movie “Enola Holmes,” following the teenage sister of the iconic detective Sherlock Holmes.

“My mother had the complete set of [Arthur] Conan Doyle in a cloth, brown, shabby book set,” Springer said. “I remember being very disappointed sometime around the age of 10 or 12 when I had read all of them so many [times], there weren’t any more.”

What was her personal favorite Holmes story?

“It’s very hard to choose, but because I am crazy about horses, I do like ‘Silver Blaze,'” Springer said. “That’s the one in which Holmes mentions the peculiar thing that the dog did in the nighttime. The dog did nothing [and] he says, ‘That’s the peculiar thing.'”

Not only could Sherlock solve mysteries, he was a sort of renaissance man.

“He was a superhero before there were superheroes,” Springer said. “He was a high-voltage, genius man of action. He could do anything. He could play the violin, he could sword fight, he could do jiu-jitsu, he could get down on his hands and knees and trail people like a dog. … He’s idealistic to me. He’s the good guy.”

How did she get the idea to write about Sherlock’s 14-year-old sister?

“I remember vividly how it came to me,” Springer said. “I had been working for years with an editor [on] ‘I Am Mordred’ and ‘I Am Morgan le Fay’ — those are Arthurian stories — and we had done the ‘Rowan Hood’ series, which is about Robin Hood’s kid sister. … I was always and forever looking for the female and feminist point of view.”

Suddenly, her editor suggested that she explore 19th century London.

“This editor [said], ‘I want you to write something set in deepest, darkest London at the time of Jack the Ripper,’ and I said, ‘Huh? Ew,'” Springer said. “I thought it over and I realized that was the time of Sherlock Holmes. I could not give Sherlock a daughter, it’s simply impossible, I think the man’s a virgin, but a younger sister, definitely.”

The book was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery in 2007.

“At first, it was actually quite frightening,” Springer said. “I did not consider myself to be really a mystery writer. … I don’t do red herrings and that kind of intricacies, so I was very challenged. … When I came to hand in the first book, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was quite nervous about it. Luckily, everybody loved it.”

She wrote six installments: “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” “The Case of the Left-Handed Lady,” “The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets,” “The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan,” “The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline” and “The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye.”

“Each book has three plots: the plot of Enola trying to find her mother, the plot of her eluding her brothers who want to put her in a finishing school, and the plot of her finding a missing person,” Springer said. “I had to bring those three things together.”

Soon, “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown fell in love with the book.

“A very young person named Paige Brown read these books and she said to her little sister, Millie Bobby Brown, ‘You might like these,'” Springer said. “Millie Bobby Brown I guess at the time was doing ‘Stranger Things’ and she said, ‘We’re going to turn these into a movie.’ It didn’t come from the top at all. It came from the kids.”

Ironically, Springer didn’t know who Brown was.

“I don’t watch a lot of TV or movies, because I’ve got movies going on inside my head,” Springer said. “In my younger years, television made me literally shake and I would hide under the furniture. … What’s going on inside my own brain is so compelling and sometimes compulsive that what’s going on in somebody else’s brain was too much.”

As such, the filmmaking process was a learning experience.

“Writing is a process of letting go,” Springer said. “It’s a two-headed process: my head and the reader’s head. … What the reader imagines and takes from the book may not be quite exactly what I imagined. … It’s a very similar process with the movie. They took the book and they enabled it. They made it more than it was already and I love it.”

She salutes writer Jack Thorne (“Wonder”) and director Harry Bradbeer (“Fleabag”).

“I read the first script and wrote them a letter with a few suggestions,” Springer said. “When actual filming was taking place, I met Harry Bradbeer and I just absolutely love him, I hugged Millie Bobby Brown, I talked with Henry Cavill and tried not to swoon. … I’ve been chatting on Twitter with Thorne and he’s delighted that I’m delighted.”

Considering there are four more books, could this become a Netflix franchise?

For now, Springer is just soaking it all in as a Florida retiree.

“It’s way too early to have anything more than hopes,” Springer said. “I’m 72 years old. I’m here quarantined from COVID and dealing with various medical conditions and thinking, ‘OK, this is the icing on the cake.’ This movie, what a heck of a thing to happen to a person my age! I’m taking this one day at a time. The future will come.”

Listen to our full conversation

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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